This week marks the Juneteenth holiday. In honor of this important day in American history, several Community Solutions staff members have written about the history of Juneteenth, and every day this week we will share posts about the holiday, the lasting impact of slavery and what structural racism means for Black Americans to this day. Read the previous installment of our Juneteenth blog series here.
While Juneteenth has received a great deal of attention recently as the nation wrestled with the issue of race since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, general knowledge about Juneteenth is more limited compared to other holidays such as the Fourth of July. It doesn’t help that Juneteenth continues to struggle to be recognized by all states and is still not recognized nationwide as a federal holiday. While South Dakota is currently the only state to not recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or observance, North Dakota, Hawaii and Oregon only passed some form of recognition earlier this year.
Just because a state recognizes Juneteenth as a holiday, does not make the goals of the holiday imminent.
However, just because a state recognizes Juneteenth as a holiday, does not make the goals of the holiday — to pursue the public policy changes needed to bring about racial equity, reconciliation and justice – imminent. Last year, Ohio’s General Assembly failed to pass two concurrent resolutions (House CR 31 and Senate CR 14) which would declare racism a public health crisis despite overwhelming support from constituents, public health organizations and health care professionals. In fact, neither even passed out of committee. Last year, an Ohio Senator, doctor and current Chair of the Senate Health Committee used racist language during a hearing where he asked if the “colored population” was at a higher risk of getting COVID-19 because they did not “wash their hands as well as other groups.”
More than that, there are legislative efforts in state legislatures across the country, including in Ohio, that seek to remove educational conversations which would create “guilt” or somehow untangle public policy issues of today to historical decisions in public policy. These bills ultimately seek to ban “critical race theory” to dispute racism’s reach on American history and block curriculums that emphasize systemic racism.
Cuyahoga County added Juneteenth as an official county holiday, with employees receiving paid time off.
By contrast, Cuyahoga County has passed legislation which recognized racism as a public health crisis, and has taken steps to address racial disparities, including the creation of the Cuyahoga County Citizens Advisory Council on Equity (CACE). Most recently, Cuyahoga County added Juneteenth as an official county holiday, with employees receiving paid time off. There are still several changes needed to pursue racial equity at the county level, but it has made commendable strides to note areas of necessary change.
Read the previous installment of our Juneteenth blog series here.